2104. EBB to RB
As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 11, 181–184.
Thursday. [20 November 1845]
Thank you!—and will you, if your sister made the copy of Landor’s verses for me as well as for you, thank her from me for another kindness, .. not the second nor the third? For my own part, be sure that if I did not fall on the right subtle interpretation about the letters, at least I did not “think it vain” of you! vain! when, supposing you really to have been overgratified by such letters, it could have proved only an excess of humility!– But .. besides the subtlety,—you meant to be kind to me, you know,—& I had a pleasure & an interest in reading them—only that .. mind!,—Sir John Hanmer’s, I was half angry with!– Now is he not cold?—and is it not easy to see why he is forced to write his own scenes five times over & over? He might have mentioned the ‘Duchess’ I think,—& he a poet! Mr Chorley speaks some things very well—but what does he mean about ‘execution,’ en revanche? but I liked his letter & his candour in the last page of it– Will Mr Warburton review you? does he mean that?– Now do let me see any other letters you receive– May I? Of course Landor’s “dwells apart” from all: & besides the reason you give for being gratified by it, it is well that one prophet should open his mouth & prophesy & give his witness to the inspiration of another. See what he says in the letter .. “You may stand quite alone if you will—and I think you will.” That is a noble testimony to a truth. And he discriminates—he understands & discerns—they are not words thrown out into the air. The “profusion of imagery covering the depth of thought” is a true description. And, in the verses, he lays his finger just on your characteristics—just on those which, when you were only a poet to me, (only a poet!—does it sound irreverent? almost, I think!) which, when you were only a poet to me, I used to study, characteristic by characteristic, & turn myself round & round in despair of being ever able to approach, taking them to be so essentially & intensely masculine that like effects were unattainable, even in a lower degree, by any female hand. Did I not tell you so once before? or oftener than once? And must not these verses of Landor’s be printed somewhere—in the Examiner?—& again in the Athenæum? if in the Examiner, certainly again in the Athenæum .. it would be a matter of course. Oh those verses! how they have pleased me. It was an act worthy of him—& of you.
George has been properly “indoctrinated,” &, we must hope, will do credit to my instructions. Just now .. just as I was writing .. he came in to say good morning & good night, (he goes to chambers earlier than I receive visitors generally) & to ask with a smile, if I had ‘a message for my friend’ .. that was you .. & so he was indoctrinated. He is good & true, honest & kind, but a little over-grave & reasonable, as I and my sisters complain continually. The great Law lime kiln dries human souls all to one colour—& he is an industrious reader among lawbooks & knows a good deal about them, I have heard from persons who can judge; but with a sacrifice of impulsiveness & liberty of spirit, which I should regret for him if he sate on the woolsack even. Oh—that law!—how I do detest it! I hate it & think ill of it– I tell George so sometimes—and he is goodnatured & only thinks to himself (a little audibly now & then) that I am a woman & talking nonsense. But the morals of it, & the philosophy of it! And the manners of it!—in which the whole host of barristers looks down on the attorneys & the rest of the world!—how long are these things to last!–
Theodosia Garrow, I have seen face to face once or twice. She is very clever—very accomplished—with talents & tastes of various kinds—a musician & linguist, in most modern languages I believe—& a writer of fluent graceful melodious verses, .. you cannot say any more. At least I cannot—& though I have not seen this last poem in the Book of Beauty, I have no more trust ready for it than for its predecessors, of which Mr Landor said as much. It is the personal feeling which speaks in him I fancy—simply the personal feeling—&, that being the case, it does not spoil the discriminating appreciation on the other page of his letter. I might have the modesty to admit besides that I may be wrong & he, right, all through. But .. “more intense than Sappho”!—more intense than intensity itself!—to think of that!– Also the word ‘poetry’ has a clear meaning to me, & all the fluency & facility & quick ear-catching of a tune which one can find in the world, do not answer to it—no.
How is the head? will you tell me? I have written all this without a word of it, & yet ever since yesterday I have been uneasy, .. I cannot help it. You see you are not better but worse. “Since you were in Italy”—. Then is it England that disagrees with you? & is it change away from England that you want? .. require, I mean. If so–—.why what follows & ought to follow? You must not be ill indeed—that is the first necessity. Tell me how you are, exactly how you are,—& remember to walk, & not to work too much .. for my sake .. if you care for me—if it is not too bold of me to say so– I had fancied you were looking better rather than otherwise: but those sensations in the head are frightful & ought to be stopped by whatever means,—even by the worst, as they would seem to me. Well—it was bad news to hear of the increase of pain,—for the amendment was a “passing show” I fear, & not caused even by thoughts of mine or it would have appeared before,—: while on the other side (the sunny side of the way) I heard on that same yesterday, what made me glad as good news, a whole gospel of good news, & from you too who profess to say ‘less than nothing’, .. & that was that “the times seemed longer to you”—do you remember saying it? And it made me glad .. happy—perhaps too glad & happy—& surprised: yes, surprised!—for if you had told me (but you would not have told me) if you had let me guess .. just the contrary, .. “that the times seemed shorter,” .. why it would have seemed to me as natural as nature—oh, believe me it would, & I could not have thought hardly of you for it in the most secret or silent of my thoughts. How am I to feel towards you, .. do you imagine, .. who have the world round you & yet make me this to you? I never can tell you how, & you never can know it without having my heart in you with all its experiences: we measure by these weights– May God bless you! & save me from being the cause to you of any harm or grief!– I choose it for my blessing instead of another. What should I be if I could fail willingly to you in the least thing? But I never will, & you know it. I will not move, nor speak, nor breathe, so as willingly & consciously to touch, with one shade of wrong, that precious deposit of “heart & life”––which may yet be recalled.
And, so, may God bless you &
Remember to say how you are.
I send Pomfret—& Shelley is returned, & the letters, in the same parcel—but my letter goes by the post as you see. Is there contrast enough between the two rival female personages of ‘Pomfret’. I fancy not. Helena shd have been more ‘demonstrative’ than she appeared in Italy, to secure the ‘new modulation’ with Walter– But you will not think it a strong book I am sure, with all the good & pure intention of it– The best character .. most lifelike .. as conventional life goes .. seems to me “Mr Rose” .. beyond all comparison—and the best point, the noiseless, unaffected manner in which the acting out of the “private judgement” in Pomfret himself is made no heroic virtue but simply an integral part of the love of truth. As to Grace she is too good to be interesting, I am afraid—& people say of her more than she expresses—& as to ‘generosity,’ she could not do otherwise in the last scenes——
But I will not tell you the story after all– At the beginning of this letter I meant to write just one page,—but my generosity is like Grace’s, & could not help itself. There were the letters to write of, & the verses! and then, you know, ‘femme qui parle’ never has done. Let me hear! & I will be as brief as a monument next time for variety.
Address: Robert Browning Esqre / New Cross / Hatcham / Surrey.
Postmark: 10FN10 NO21 1845 A.
Docket, in RB’s hand: 80.
Publication: RB-EBB, pp. 279–282.
Manuscript: Wellesley College.
1. Date provided by postmark.
2. John Hanmer (1809–81) was M.P. for Shrewsbury 1832–37, Hull 1841–47 and then Flint until 1872 when he was created Baron Hanmer. From the context, it appears that Hanmer’s letter to RB was an acknowledgment of receipt of Dramatic Romances and Lyrics; we have been unable to trace this letter. RB had visited Hanmer in 1842, and the two had exchanged copies of their works; see letter 1014 and Reconstruction, C563. The motto for RB’s Colombe’s Birthday was taken from Hanmer’s “Written After Reading Horace Walpole’s Account of Castle Henningham,” lines 7–9 (Fra Cipolla, and Other Poems, 1839).
3. “In return.”
4. See letter 2082, note 3.
5. Landor’s verses were published in The Morning Chronicle of 22 November 1845, but they never appeared in either The Athenæum or The Examiner.
6. The woolsack is the Lord Chancellor’s seat in the House of Lords.
7. In letter 847, EBB wrote to Miss Mitford that she had seen Theodosia Garrow twice. EBB’s comments are less guarded in that letter than in this one. The poem EBB refers to was published in The Keepsake for 1846 (see letter 2094).
8. Underscored twice.
9. “The woman who speaks.” See letter 1999, note 7.